Saturday 18th April, 2015:
At 5.30am the Northumberland birds are in full chorus in my garden. The new born sunlight is streaming through the mist and as usual when I’m forced to get up at this time I wonder why I don’t do it more often. One of the additional benefits (other than the beauty of the early morning) of getting up so early is that many of the morning radio programmes often seem to relate to my thoughts on landscape. This morning Open Country was about a project in Sheffield called Wild at Heart that provides opportunities for older people to go out into the landscape, walk and take photos. This is all about how direct experience of the landscape can renew and refresh; it inspires me to think how we might consider how the story-walking methods we are currently investigating in the Hydro project to explore water at the local level, can be used to relate to a much larger – landscape scale – experience.
The dew is forming enormous droplets on the grass made luminescent by the morning light. The garden smells fresh, the air is quite cold as I leave for the metro station. Silhouettes of the ponies which live in the field at the metro entrance shimmer like ghosts in the mist. Surrounded by an atmosphere heavy with water on the platform, I then get into the dryness of the train and spend most of the rest my journey to Saltaire thinking about what water I can see, rather than feel.
The view from the train between Durham and Darlington is of a low-lying watery carr landscape; a mosaic of pools and grazing ponies on the green islands of grassy flush meadow. This area has a rich history based on the characteristics of the water-based landscape. The River Skerne which is near here and is a tributary of the River Tees is famous partly as an early example of a restoration project. This ran 1995-1998 and was an EU-LIFE demonstration site. Of course Stephenson developed his famous steam engines near here too. I wonder if this was at all related to the fact that there was so much water around and available.
Resorting to the newspaper I notice how little there seems to be about water. The political focus for the election is definitely not on the environment. However the death of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea provides chilling reading; when life is so bad that such danger is risked it is hard to see what can be done to deter people taking that risk. The saying ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’ becomes particularly poignant. I think we tend to see the Mediterranean as a benign sea; somewhere we in the UK go for beach holidays and wonderful food. But these migrant tales tell a very different story. Further on in the paper is a picture of dead fish in the Olympic lake in Rio – the Rodrigo de Freitas lake. The air there is thick with the stench of rotting fish; 43 tonnes of dead fish have been hauled out of the lake in the last week. Poor environmental management is blamed – sewage, algae, thermal shock. Enough water doom and gloom for one journey, I return to the view.
As we pull out of Leeds I see the dual water corridors of the canal and river snaking away in-between the bridges and buildings. This area is part of the wider site of our Hydro research focus. As in many places in the UK landscape, the railway corridor follows the river and canal corridors. The vegetation of willow and poplar are common near water but are also pioneering plants that are commonly found in such corridors. The early green of the willow leaves and hawthorn are bursting out and beginning to make green again that ribbon of land and water that is the basis for both wildlife and people to move in and out of the city centre. As we approach Shipley the cows in the water meadows are lying down and the fields look calm and peaceful. As we cross the river, I see a lazy cappuccino topping of froth moving slowly towards the sea. The view from the train window provides plenty to ruminate upon; cyclists on the canal towpath, the bank of blackthorn blossom and the gathering clouds over Shipley; a young mother, out with her pushchair and black Labrador by the canal side, has stopped to look at the water and the train; the buddleia in the sidings is forcing its way through derelict paving. I see the dead end of the Bradford canal and the pumphouse building on Dock Lane that Trevor Roberts pointed out to me on my last trip to Shipley (see Bradford's 'Conceptua'l Canal blog, April 13th on Multistory Water site).
The robins are singing in Saltaire as I alight from the train. It’s still pretty quiet at 9.45am in the streets. The river water sparkles as the sun comes out again and the Rivers & Canals Trust boat - the Kennet -is already ready for visitors for the World Heritage Weekend. Even the geese seem to be enjoying the peace broken only by the birdsong and the morning exercisers. The magnolias are in full bloom. A short walk through Roberts Park and along Upper Coach Road I find a track running down towards the river. It goes along the side of a beck where the wood anemones and celandines provide a bankside tapestry of colour. A yellow wagtail ignores the sign by the weir and dances from rock to rock. My destination is the Rowing Club where we are to meet Upper Coach Road residents.
Our meeting goes well and is enjoyable and interesting. There is lots of enthusiasm and we gain considerable insights. A number of ideas emerge for the landscape in and around the housing and for further activities. It’s a beautiful day; the young rowers are preparing their boat as we emerge from the meeting and a lone swallow swoops around the buildings looking for possible openings and nest sites. This is an idyllic spot.
On the way back to the station the field between the houses and the river is dry and the grass worn by many feet along a notional footpath. We have been talking about this in our meeting. The landscape falls in a gentle sweep down to the river. From the raised land at the top of the field, the view from the houses across the valley must be fantastic. There are fingers of green reaching into and around the housing that reminds me of residential layouts in Village Homes, Davis, California. This is now seen as an important example of one of the first community schemes to use drainage systems based on natural processes such as swales and reedbeds, and a series of semi-public spaces for community orchards and vegetable growing. At Higher Coach Road the green spaces reaches right through the housing, from the larger area by the river, and up towards wooded slopes.
Early morning Exercise in the Park:
Afternoon in the Park:
Now early afternoon, Roberts Park is transformed and filled
with families and cricketers. A large number of geese and ducks are enjoying
the bread bounty brought by children and there is a busker singing vaguely
country & western songs near the moored Kennet.
On the way home I notice that the ditches in fields in Yorkshire are filled with water and the drying ruts around the field gates indicate the wetness of the recent weather. The waterside grasses and reeds are still brown tussocks and the hawthorn in County Durham seems less green than in Yorkshire. However the oil seed rape is already in bloom and there are lambs everywhere. It seems that the corn has grown since I saw it on the way south. There are many tractors carrying out field operations; cultivating, spraying, harrowing and rolling the drying land. It’s only recently been feasible to get onto the fields without destroying the soil structure after so much winter wetness. The cows are lying down again, but I feel they must now be sunbathing rather than keeping themselves warm as the mist is long gone. Rooks are poking about in the tussocks of the pasture and horses are grazing with no protective rugs. There is a large marshland area - Ferryhill Carrs - next to the railway just south of Durham which I have been intending to visit for as long as I can remember. The stillness of the dried bulrushes indicate the lack of wind although the clouds are now gathering again. We cross the meandering River Wear and there is a beautiful oxbow evident as a result of shallow surface water. We are quickly across deep wooded denes and on to Durham and to probably the best ever view from a train south of the north Northumberland coastline.
At home the robin has taken the early evening shift. The garden is beginning to get cool but the busy bumble bees and the dry birdbath indicate what must have been a warm day. I retire into a bath myself and to further reflections on my watery day.
Multistory Water: http://multi-story-shipley.co.uk/
Canals and Rivers Trust: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/canals-and-rivers
Village Homes, Davis California: http://www.michaelcorbettmasterbuilder.com/village.html
Online report of dead fish at Rodrigo de Freitas lake: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/17/dead-fish-brazil-lake-spoil-2016-olympic-games
Reports on Deaths in the Mediterranean: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32371348
Wild at Heart, BBC Open Country programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qgft/episodes/player
Saltaire World Heritage site: http://www.saltairevillage.info/
Ferryhill Carr Local Nature Reserve: http://www.lnr.naturalengland.org.uk/Special/lnr/lnr_details.asp?C=0&N=&ID=1070